Google Inbox for Gmail

by Dave Michels

Lots of companies are on a mission to find a new way to work – including Google and thus the new email interface called Inbox (for Gmail).

Email in general needs a radical re-invention. It’s a hodgepodge of content that trickles in all day. 90% of is automated crap – newsletters, confirmations, alerts, promotions, etc. The other 10 percent comes from actual people – family, friends, enemies, customers,  friend of a friend, etc. all types of content. Some are trash, some items require immediate action, and many deserve retention.

Inbox is so different that if they imposed this change there would be a mass rebellion – worse than Facebook Messenger or Apple’s U2 downloads. So instead of imposing it, they did the invite only gambit. Now we are lining up to be their beta testers. Why any developer attempts to guess what customers want, when instead all it takes a cloud trial program to find out definitively is beyond me. I am ok with the approach, but Inbox is not ready. Way too limited.

The problem with all of these approaches is they are all awkward at first. One never knows if the awkwardness is attributed to change or simply because it really is awkward. The only way to tell for sure is to commit to see if becomes normal. This would be more manageable if everything wasn’t changing at the same time. It’s also a bit frustrating because we don’t even know if we are adapting to something that is real. I like Gmail. I know not everyone does, but I do. I find it efficient, albeit dated. There are aspects in dire need of an overhaul, but I generally consider Gmail more up-to-date and efficient than the alternatives. So I find myself caught between the desire for an update, but a hope that they don’t screw it up.

Inbox was a bit more radical than I wanted. I hate it when vendors break things that not only worked, but worked for me.

Here are my initial thoughts on Inbox:

  • If you practice the GTD philosophy, then you will like many aspects of Inbox. The archive function is still there, but now it’s a checkmark – Done. Out of sight, and awaiting for the right search command to its return.
  • By far the biggest change – and annoyance – is the removal of tasks and contacts. I don’t get it all – every email system I’ve used since Windows For Workgroups – had Contacts. Contacts are still there, but you need to access them via a separate URL. I can’t find Tasks at all – and I do use (or was using) tasks.
  • Delete: I remember around the year 2000 that a major court ruling made email discoverable. I was at GE at the time and the company became so worried that it mandated 10 MB email boxes. Read it and delete it.  My how things have changed.
    Google and Microsoft know that the next big thing is going to be contextual awareness and they need data to feed the monster. This is why they are making OneDrive and GDrive so useful and cheap. Email also says a lot about someone  – even their SPAM and junk mail. So, Google doesn’t want you to delete your email. Each message has three quick tasks: Pin (star), Snooze, and Done (archive) – all of which keeps the messages. To delete email in Inbox, it’s a two step process. This is annoying, stupid and underhanded. If I know I don’t need it, I want it gone – like expired Groupons.
  • The pin concept is quite smart. We all have important messages with want to keep “top” of mind. In Gmail, you can star these or tag them “important,” but they rapidly disappear out of sight. By pinning a message it stays on top. Well done.
  • Snooze is also pretty smart. Some emails are just better to deal with at a later time, the question is how to remember to do so. If you snooze a message, it offers 4 choices: Tomorrow, next week (7 AM Monday), someday (right out of GTD), and custom. I can see lots of uses for this – particularly messages I read on my mobile, but prefer to deal with later at my desk. These messages live in the snooze folder until their time.
  • A feature I want, but that’s still missing is the ability to set a future delete. I might get an email saying “Joe will be in Europe for 3 weeks, and you can call him on this temporary cell.”  I don’t want to delete it now, but I don’t want it long term. Of course, Google wants me to keep everything long term so I doubt they will add this feature. It might be nice if I could unpin something automatically. An email reminding me of holiday hours or something that I want on top for 2 weeks, why not set it to auto archive (or delete) after its relevance expires?
  • What I find very surprising is Google took away the “star.” There’s really nothing more Google than a star to indicate favorite or whatever you choose to make star mean. I have several notes in Gmail starred. I can still find them with search “is:starred”, but there is no way to star or destar messages in Inbox. If I choose to continue, I will have to switch to a tag – maybe “star.”
  • The big feature in Inbox is bundling. The system attempts to groups mails together. The example in the video is the order confirmation and shipping confirmation should be grouped as a single “conversation.” That makes sense. But Bundling is a bit more than that.
  • Inbox wants me to archive my mail – I’ve never been a big fan of mailbox zero. I usually don’t bother archiving – I just move on. However, I am finding that 1) I am archiving more in Inbox and 2) I am deleting less – which really bothers me.
  • There’s very few options in customizations. If you go into Gmail Settings, there’s pages of settings. In Inbox there’s very few. For example, there is no way to add a default signature to new emails in Inbox.

Bottom line. Not ready for Prime Time. Very GTD oriented – optimized for the zero inbox crowd. A few clever ideas, and has potential. It does grow on you.